County's proposed pesticide ban draws questions and concerns
15 Jan 2015 Written by Rebecca Guterman ROCKVILLE – While some fear the negative health effects associated with pesticides, others say the science does not back up the claim.
The debate over synthetic pesticides has come to Montgomery County with County Council President George Leventhal’s proposed ban on “non-essential” pesticides except for use on some weeds, invasive species, agriculture, gardens and golf courses.
It would also require posting notices upon spraying pesticides, an education plan and an Integrated Pest Management plan (IPM).
Leventhal backed the bill because of research in peer-reviewed journals showing links between children’s exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive functions and behavioral problems, in addition to risks for adults and pets. Leventhal also cited sources from the National Institutes of Health and American Academy of Pediatrics.
In order to accommodate all those who want to speak, Leventhal and Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) committee chair Roger Berliner added a public hearing on Feb. 12 on top of the Jan. 15 hearing.
“We want Montgomery County to be the safest, cleanest, healthiest county in the United States of America and we’re taking this on even though we understand that it is a new concept for a lot of people. We’re going to take our time with it. We’re not in a rush with it, but I do anticipate a very far-reaching piece of legislation during this calendar year,” Leventhal (D-At large) said.
But some researchers and those in the industry said the government already regulates pesticides to make sure they are safe enough. The Environmental Protection Agency requires over 100 different studies and tests to ensure a “reasonable certainty of no harm” with use of pesticides.
“There is a lot of infrastructure behind their safe use and availability,” said Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs for the trade association Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment. “The products are highly regulated and would not be available in the marketplace as tools for professionals or consumers if they weren’t safe.”
Leventhal disagrees. In a memo he wrote to the council when he introduced the bill, he said the EPA’s vetting is not foolproof.
“The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that many pesticides are currently being approved for consumer use by the EPA without receipt and review of data that the manufacturer is required to provide on the safety of chemicals,” he wrote. “As an educated populace, we like to think that we have a high bar for pesticide safety in this country, but sadly, when a pesticide has been approved by the EPA, it connotes little about its safety.”
The bill’s list of restricted, or non-essential, pesticides is based on EPA’s classifications of carcinogenic to humans, likely carcinogenic to humans and restricted use as well as the more than 100 pesticides listed as Class 9 in Ontario’s law and a category 1 endocrine disruptor by the European Commission.
On the other hand, studies that show correlations between exposure and negative health effects do not always take into account the causes of a disease, said Stuart Cohen, president of the firm Environmental and Turf Services.
For example, one study found an odds ratio greater than one for pesticides and soft tissue sarcomas, which would indicate someone is more likely to get those cancers than they would be otherwise. But the same study found odds ratios of less than one for pesticides and brain cancer or lymphomas, which would indicate exposure to the pesticides actually lowered the chance of getting those cancers. Cohen said it is unlikely pesticides would do that and there is more likely another confounding factor.
For Alex Stavitsky-Zeineddin, a member of the Safe Grow Montgomery coalition, there is no reason to risk even an association between exposure and negative effects. Stavitsky-Zeineddin joined the coalition after getting involved in her own community when a friend’s son developed a rash after exposure to pesticides.
“If there is any research out there stating via exposure to these chemicals my sons have a greater risk of cancers or that my dog can or that I can, I don’t see the value of having it around it all,” she said. “The fact that there’s a possibility is enough to say: why spray it?”
To lawn care professionals, the answer is clear: the substances are safe and when used properly make lawns and turf safer for everyone. Eric Wenger, president of Complete Lawn Care, serves about 1,000 mostly residential customers throughout the county. Wenger said grubs, which eat the roots of grass, can turn athletic fields into danger zones for players.
Wenger also said the industry does adapt to change, but accelerating it may not work when it comes to Integrated Pest Management, which already takes into account non-pesticide ways to keep lawns healthy. He said there are currently no truly effective alternatives to treating grubs.
“If you take away 95 percent of the toolbox that we use to get there, you pretty much take away IPM,” he said. “We aren’t just pro-pesticide because we want to use pesticides, we’re pro-pesticide because we know they can be used safely and also they are the tools that are needed to do what we want successfully.”
Kevin Fitzgerald, general manager of TruGreen, said he has never seen negative health effects in himself or his employees, who have worked in the field for decades.
“The county is taking a little bit of information and having an extremely emotional response to it,” Fitzgerald said.
TruGreen serves about 12,000 residential customers throughout the county from their Gaithersburg location, according to Fitzgerald.
But proponents of the bill have seen safer alternatives to commonly used pesticides. The city of Takoma Park has a six-hour workshop for lawn care within their laws on Jan. 20 and has been doing outreach to business and homeowners, according to Nima Upadhyay, special projects coordinator for the city’s department of public works.
Upadhyay said the city has not had any problems with implementation of the bill and have only had eight violations since it took effect. Upadhyay said she does not think implementation on a wider scale, like Montgomery County, would present any problems.
“I don’t see it being a problem because I think it’s just a process of adapting. I have been in conversations with our city gardener who has been doing organic lawn care (since before we passed the law),” she said. “Based on what I’ve seen I think it’s a process of adapting to it rather than saying that we cannot do it because people are already doing it.”
Learn how you can have a beautiful lawn without toxic pesticides!
The City of Takoma Park and Beyond Pesticides will host a workshop on organic turf management. The workshop will focus on a Systems Approach to Natural Turf Management, which integrates three concepts: an understanding of the soil and its biomass; sound management techniques; and the use of natural, organic products. All attendees will have the chance to ask questions of the experts and prepare for the spring.
Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from the nation’s expert on lawn and turf care!
Chip Osborne, president of Osborne Organics, has over 15 years experience creating sustainable and healthy landscapes, and 35 years experience as a horticulturist.
Jay Feldman, director of Beyond Pesticides (founded in 1981), member of the National Organic Standards Board, is an expert on pesticide effects and alternatives.
Mike Welsh is the city gardener and maintains city gardens. He will be talking about his experience with organic lawn care.
The event is free of charge and lunch will be provided, register for the event today ! Please email or call Nima Upadhyay at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-891-7621 to register for the event.
About Safe Grow
On July 22, 2013, the Takoma Park City Council unanimously passed the Safe Grow Act of 2013 (PDF), which generally restricts the use of cosmetic lawn pesticides on both private and public property throughout Takoma Park. This is the first time that a local jurisdiction of this size has used its authority to restrict pesticide use broadly on private and public property, exercising its responsibility to protect the health and welfare of its residents through its local government. The law fits into the City’s strategic plan to lead community efforts in environmental sustainability, protection and restoration, and secures Takoma Park’s role as a leader in sustainability in the state of Maryland and the nation. This landmark legislation will protect residents of Takoma Park from involuntary poisoning, reduce the poisoning of pets and wildlife, and protect the watershed from harm posed by pesticides used to maintain the cosmetic appearance of lawns. The Safe Grow Act of 2013 establishes public education requirements and phases in restrictions of harmful pesticides for lawn care on public and private property within the City.
Important Information to Commercial Pesticide Applicators
Beginning March 1, 2014, this law makes it illegal for a commercial pesticide applicator to apply a restricted pesticide for lawn care purposes on private property or public rights-of-way in the City. To learn more, please review the pdf below: